Million Dollar Arm: Looking back on the Boston Red Sox presence in Asia

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Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

If the Duquette era of scouting in Asia was something of a trial-by-fire, GM Theo Epstein’s signing of phenom Daisuke Matsuzaka represents the ultimate Red Sox failure on the continent. Unlike bigger Japanese flame throwers like Yu Darvish or Masahiro Tanaka, the 6-foot, 205 lb. Dice-K was advertised as a sort of pocket rocket who dominated the Far East with a fascinating pitch called the Gyroball. I myself remember trawling YouTube late at night during grad school, searching for proof of the Gyroball’s existence instead of writing my Master’s thesis.

Out of the gate, Matsuzaka was more than serviceable (15-12, 4.40 ERA, 201 K), if lacking the polish of a Major League ace. But concerns mounted: the baseball was bigger here than it was in Japan, the Red Sox altered his throwing program…on and on. He barely made the 2007 playoff roster and was a minor factor during the Red Sox march to the World Series crown (though he did pitch 5 and 1/3 decent innings against the Rockies in his lone Fall Classic start).

Against all odds, a carefully-monitored Dice-K went 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA in 2008. I can’t recall another pitcher winning 18 and averaging less than six innings a start. Much less leading the league in walks.

Things fell apart for Dice-K in 2009 as the injuries continued to pile up. Despite a salvageable 9-6, 4.69 effort in 2010 as part of a terribly banged-up rotation, he went 17-22 with some gnarly ERAs his last four years in Boston. In the end, Dice-K’s 9.2 WAR in six seasons wasn’t worth the $51 million posting fee, much less the additional $52 million contract the Red Sox lavished upon him over six years.